Sermon from our Evening Prayer Service on Wednesday, September 21, 2016
I didn’t address this in my Sunday sermon and normally do not because my sermon, like Jesus’ parable is addressed to “the disciples.” I think these stewardship principles are vitally important for all Christians, and this is always our main focus when we come to the topic of money. However, sometimes Christians ask if the Christian faith can provide them with any guidance when it comes to their participation in elections. It is not entirely right to say that we shouldn’t say anything about this in our sermons since no one in Jesus’ day (or Luther’s for that matter) had any right to vote. But we do, and we should look to God for guidance. On the one hand economic policies fall more into the realm of natural law (economics), and I am an amateur in that area. However, I do think that the Christian values of stewardship can have some influence on good governmental economic policy.
Economics is a complicated science. However there are some basic aspects that are not hard to grasp and that are governed by God’s natural laws. The first is “stewardship.” A person who works and produces should have some say in how the fruit of their labor is managed. This is taught in the Seventh Commandment, “You shall not steal.” This natural law also tells us that the one who produces is usually the one who is best qualified to manage it. The second is “responsibility.” Natural law also compels us to believe that those who have much have a responsibility to help those who have less. If ten men are marooned on an island and one man possesses ten weapons and the others none, natural law says that he should share what he has for the benefit of all. If he does not and they are attacked, all will die. Stewardship and responsibility are two important keys to a society’s management of wealth.
Many are concerned about the distribution of wealth in our country. A very small percentage of people are in possession of much of the wealth. Many perceive this to be a great evil. But is it necessarily evil? We could evaluate that by asking, “Did they steal it?” and, “Are they managing it well for the sake of others?” This is where a more careful analysis is needed. However there is an interesting website that might give us a clue. Forbes.com lists the richest people in America by state. By a ratio of 35 to 15 the richest people by state are all started as average people who found great success through their endeavors. Among that list are familiar businesses such as Ebay, Quicken Loans, Menards, Nike, Facebook, Berkshire Hathawy and Microsoft. And, among the fifteen inheritors of wealth, most were only one generation away from those who started with very little. This tells me that in our country, for the most part, wealth is still earned in just ways. Is it being managed well for the sake of others? That is probably harder to determine, but there has been a long tradition of philanthropy in our country. Nevertheless that leads us to another question of economic policy.
Some would propose that their wealth should be taken from them and managed by the government. This has been tried before in the Soviet Union and China, and I think most would recognized that it failed. Some would propose that their wealth should be taken from them and redistributed directly to the average citizens or directed to public works that benefit everyone. This is being done now since they pay the bulk of all taxes. But should more be distributed in this way? That is the question that our country is really debating right now. I’m not sure that I can find anything in Scripture or natural law that would say more or less of this is either good or evil. Most likely these are decisions that have to be tried and evaluated. Try more taxation of the rich and then evaluate the outcome, or try less. That is essentially what we are doing in our country as we venture in one direction and then the other.
This brings me to our Christian involvement in governmental economics. What role do we play? What should be our thoughts about these things? First, Christians should always support the principles of stewardship and responsibility. This is the overarching guidance that God gives us. We should live them personally, and we should work for them corporately. Flowing from this are two more. Second, we should be careful not to become jealous of those who are extremely wealthy if they gained their wealth justly. Nor should we advocate taking everything from them as Karl Marx did. We should pray that they would use their wealth wisely. Third, we should be careful not to disregard those who are not well off eonomically. We certainly cannot say, “They failed, that’s their problem” as Ayn Rand advocated. God has called us to more than that. Just as the government tries to ensure that wealth is aquired justly, it also has a role to ensure that wealth is managed well for the sake of the whole society. Whatever leaders we elect, whatever laws we support – these should at least be our first guiding principles.
Finally, we have to believe that whether these principles of natural law are followed or not, God is still in control and we always turn to Him to bring justice and peace to this world. While Paul had nothing to say about voting because there was no such thing in his day, he did have something to say about praying. “First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way” (1 Timothy 2.1-2). Not only should we pray for our leaders that they may work for “a peaceful and quiet life…,” We should pray for our fellow citizens that they would seek the same. And finally we should pray for ourselves that we might make wise choices when it comes to our voting. We should seek leaders who will rule as much as possible according to God’s will so that the Gospel can be preached and that people might believe that Jesus is the one mediator who gave Himself as a ransom for all. Amen.
Sunday Sermon September 18, 2016 at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, Collinsville, Illinois
Using Our Mammon Wisely
He also said to the disciples, “There wasa rich man who had a manager, and charges were brought to him that this man waswasting his possessions. And he called him and said to him, ‘What is this thatI hear about you? Turn in the account of your management, for you can no longerbe manager.’ And the manager said to himself, ‘What shall I do, since my masteris taking the management away from me? I am not strong enough to dig, and I amashamed to beg. I have decided what to do, so that when I am removed frommanagement, people may receive me into their houses.’ So, summoning hismaster's debtors one by one, he said to the first, ‘How much do you owe mymaster?’ He said, ‘A hundred measures of oil.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill,and sit down quickly and write fifty.’ Then he said to another, ‘And how muchdo you owe?’ He said, ‘A hundred measures of wheat.’ He said to him, ‘Take yourbill, and write eighty.’ The master commended the dishonest manager for hisshrewdness. For the sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with theirown generation than the sons of light. And I tell you, make friends foryourselves by means of unrighteous wealth, so that when it fails they mayreceive you into the eternal dwellings.
“One who is faithful in a very little isalso faithful in much, and one who is dishonest in a very little is alsodishonest in much. If then you have not been faithful in the unrighteouswealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? And if you have not beenfaithful in that which is another's, who will give you that which is your own?No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love theother, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serveGod and money.”
The Pharisees, who were lovers of money,heard all these things, and they ridiculed him. And he said to them, “You arethose who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts. For what isexalted among men is an abomination in the sight of God.
In Luke chapter fifteen Jesus told threeparables to explain to the Pharisees why He sat and ate with sinners: TheParables of the Lost Sheep, Lost Coin and the Lost Sons. Those parables showedthat He had come to seek and to save that which was lost. Luke chapter sixteenbegins with, “He also said to His disciples, ‘There was a rich man who had amanager…’” This parable, like the other three, helps us to avoid the bad waysof this world that lead away from God – especially the way of “money-loving”which was another habit of the Pharisees. God always wants us to be with Him,and He does not want anything to come between. Let’s first go back over theparable and then address these two things: Sin of Money-Loving and Grace ofMoney-Managing.
The Parable of the Unjust Manager
This parable was especially directedtoward the temptation of greed. In verse fourteen Luke says the Pharisees, whowere “money-lovers,” ridiculed Jesus for teaching His disciples this parable.
In the parable there is a money managerwho did not do a very good job. His master called him to account for“scattering” his master’s money. Themanager planned ahead by going to his master’s debtors and giving themdiscounts on their accounts. He did this in order to make friends with them sothat they would help him when he was out of a job. Jesus says this was adishonest thing for him to do, but it was clever. You see discounts like thiswere not unusual, and the manager put his master in a difficult position. Hemade the master look very generous so that he couldn’t take back the credits orseverely punish the manager.
In verse nine Jesus says that we shouldmake friends for ourselves with our wealth (I don’t care for the translation“unrighteous wealth.” Wealth is neither righteous nor unrighteous. The ESV istrying to overcome a little translation difficulty. The actual word is “mammon.”“Mammon” can mean money or the things money can buy.”) We are to make friendswith our wealth, whether it be great or small, “so that when it fails they mayreceive you into eternal dwellings.” He then calls us to faithfulness with ourwealth and with everything earthly in verse ten: “One who is faithful in a verylittle is also faithful in much, and one who is dishonest in a very little isalso dishonest in much… No servant can serve two masters, for either he willhate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despisethe other. You cannot serve God and money (mammon).”
What Does This Mean?
As I said before “money” is neitherrighteous nor unrighteous. Paul later told Timothy that “the love of money”(not “money”) “is the root of all evil” (1 Timothy 6.10). Money is like abattery that we use to store up our work so that we can trade with it withother people. Money is really the accumulation of our work or someone else’swork. The key is whether we acquired that money justly and what we are doingwith it. The problem with temptation, and particularly the temptation of greed,is that it takes something good – like work – and changes it into somethingbad. God wants us to work, and He doesn’t care if we store up our work in theform of money. What He cares about is the way we do this and what we do withour wealth.
There are two big problems when it comesto work and wealth. The first is that it can push God out of our life. In theThird Commandment God said, “Remember the Sabbath Day to keep it holy.” This isthe part we usually memorize. But the actual commandment is longer. God goes onto say, “Six days you shall work and do all your labor, but the seventh day isa Sabbath to the LORD. On it you shall do no work…” But as He goes on… Youshall take the time to remember the work that God has done for you. The firstproblem that this commandment identifies is the problem of always working orresting from our work but never remembering God or receiving the work that Hehad done for us. You see, just as we canstore our work in the form of money or possessions, so also we can store thework of God in our hearts. Jesus said that the most important treasure is thetreasury of our faith in which is stored the laws and the promises of God (Luke12.21). Throughout the Old and NewTestaments the Sabbath commandment is one of the most important. Luke tells usthat it was always Jesus’ “custom” to go to the synagogue on the Sabbath (Luke4.16). When Paul ventured out on his missionary journeys, he always looked forthe believers who were gathered together on the Sabbath. So to serve God ratherthan money means that we always give God and His word the priority in our life.We are always looking to keep the treasury of our faith filled.
The second problem when it comes to workand wealth is mentioned in this parable when Jesus says that we should “makefriends” with our wealth. Work is good as long as we don’t work so much as toforget about God. Wealth can be good as long as we use it for good purposes –and that is especially to help others. Too often we get the attitude thatwealth is something we completely own ourselves and that we can do whatever weplease with it. This is not true at all. God tells us in Psalm 50 “For everybeast of the forest is mine, the cattle on a thousand hills” (v. 10). God ownseverything, and He has given us the means to work and to temporarily accumulatewealth. It is important to remember that in the parable the “dishonest” managerthe manager was a “manager.” He didn’t own the money that he was discounting.In the parable it is probably best to think of the owner as God. It is Hisstuff that we are always managing. God doesn’t want us to scatter it aboutwastefully. But He does want us to use it wisely, and one of the wisest thingswe can do is to use in a way that benefits other people. It is this that Jesuscommends. We do this when we treat other people fairly, pay our bills, and whenwe seek out ways to help those who need a helping hand of some kind. Isaiahsaid, “A generous man devises generous things, and by generosity he shall stand”(32.8).
How God Moves Us from Knowing to Doing
These are all good things for us to thinkabout. It is vital for us to know that we shouldn’t work too much or beselfish. But it is most important that we also realize the help that God givesus to avoid either forgetting about God or spending every penny we have onourselves. How can we actually “serve God rather than mamon”? The “how” is thatwe remember this parable is set within bigger and more important story. Jesusis headed to the cross. He is also working. Remember how he told His parentswhen He was twelve years old in the temple: “I must be about My Father’sbusiness” (Luke 2.49). Jesus’ work wasto fulfill all the commandments perfectly for us and to teach us the truth ofthose commandments. Jesus’ generosity was to give the benefits of that goodwork to us through His sacrifice on the cross. Every day I fall short in myobligation to remember God. Every day I fall short in my obligation to share mywealth, spiritual and material, with others. But every day God’s grace isoffered to me in forgiveness. And every day God will hear my prayers so that Imay do better, and He will help me to improve.
The Apostle Paul summed it up well when hetold Timothy, “There is one mediator between God and men, Christ Jesus, whogave Himself as a ransom for all” (1 Timothy 2.5-6). This is God’s generosity to us. This is theway God made us His friends. Keeping that truth in mind and heart will alwayshelp us use our mamon wisely rather than being a slave to it. Amen.